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Francisco Liriano, Pirates cruise to 9-1 win as Bucs sweep Mets

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Francisco Liriano struck out 12 batters, Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte homered, and the Bucs got welcome contributions from some struggling players as they swept the Mets with an easy 9-1 victory Sunday.

Early on, it was hard to tell if the Pirates were getting the good Liriano or the inconsistent one. In the second inning, Liriano gave up an infield single to Daniel Murphy and then a double to John Mayberry, putting runners on second and third with no outs. Then, though, Liriano whiffed Anthony Recker and Darrell Ceciliani. Then the Bucs opted to pitch to Ruben Tejada even with pitcher Jon Niese on deck, even though Tejada had homered off lefty Antonio Bastardo yesterday. Liriano whiffed him, too.

In the third, too, Liriano put two runners on but got himself out of trouble with strikeouts, getting Michael Cuddyer and then Murphy to get out of another jam.

Through the top of the fourth, Liriano had nine strikeouts, at least two in each inning. And finally, he got some help from the Pirates offense. Francisco Cervelli hit an infield single, then came all the way around on a double by Jordy Mercer, who rose from the dead and put the Pirates on the board with his first hit since May 13.

The Mets tied the game in the top of the fifth when a leadoff walk to Tejada came back to bite Liriano. But the Bucs offense erupted in the bottom of the inning. Jose Tabata led off with a walk, and McCutchen promptly brought him in with his third homer in his last four games. Then Jung-Ho Kang walked and move up on a groundout, then came home on Cervelli's single.

That knocked Niese out of the game, but the Bucs continued against reliever Erik Goeddel in the sixth. Gregory Polanco singled and moved up on a grounder, and the Mets intentionally walked McCutchen to get to Marte. Goeddel left a changeup at thigh level, and Marte blasted off to left for a three-run shot.

Liriano, meanwhile, had left the game after six with 12 strikeouts, giving the Pirates a third straight terrific pitching performance after Gerrit Cole and A.J. Burnett's fine starts earlier this weekend. Via Elias, that gave the Pirates three straight double-digit strikeout performances by starting pitchers for the first time since 1969.

The Pirates' offense tacked on a couple more runs in the seventh. Cervelli hit his third single of the game with one out, then moved up as Mercer walked. Polanco loaded the bases with an infield single, and Josh Harrison brought home a run with a sacrifice fly. Pinch-hitter Corey Hart then came up with an RBI single, because this was the kind of game where even Corey Hart gets involved.

Jared Hughes, Tony Watson and Arquimedes Caminero pitched the late innings. Those are way better relievers than I'd like to see pitching in a blowout, but the Bucs also blew the Mets out yesterday, got 8.1 innings from Cole on Friday, and had an off day Thursday, so the good end of the Pirates' bullpen hasn't had much to do lately. This is, of course, a great problem to have.

With the win, the Pirates have scored 26 more runs than they've allowed this year, and their weak record is largely a function of the fact that they've lost a lot of close games. Obviously, that's not what they're trying to do, but it suggests there's a lot of truth in what we've seen this weekend. The Pirates probably aren't as good as they were last year. But they're better than their record so far this season has suggested. That was true before today, of course. But it's easier to feel it's true after a weekend in which Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates' starting pitching annihilated everyone.